Preview: Tasman v Manawatu

Getty Images

Thursday, August 27, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Tasman look the genuine article this campaign early, their pack isn’t the focal point of their play but a useful addition to an impressive arsenal, while their backline looks sharp as ever, but pleasingly for the coaching staff, is still in sight of further improvement.

35-20 and 34-13 wins over Waikato and Bay of Plenty respectively had the Makos operating in that rarefied air where it looked as if they had the ability to dominate in cruise control, they look comfortable as a known heavyweight and it will take a monumental improvement for Manawatu to record success in Blenheim.

The Turbos were so close yet so far against Counties losing 35-36 in the opening round, but to be fair the Steelers had the game under control late despite the furious closing burst by a Manawatu side that still loves to move the ball around.

Only early in the second half against Waikato at home last week did the Turbos preferred open game click into gear after a quiet first half, so coach Jason O’Halloran will be keen to see his side play well for longer periods of the game if they are to record their first win of 2015.

Thursday 27 August, 7.35pm at Lansdowne Park, Blenheim
Played: 8, 2006-2013
Manawatu wins: 2 | Tasman wins: 6

Last match: Tasman 57 Manawatu 14, 13.10.13 in Nelson (ITMC)
Last Manawatu win: Manawatu 27 Tasman 23, 25.08.11 in Nelson (ITMC)
Biggest Tasman score: 57 (57-13), 13.10.13 in Nelson (ITMC)
Biggest Manawatu score: 27 (27-23), 25.08.11 in Nelson (ITMC)
Biggest differential: Tasman, 43 (43-0), 12.08.06 and (57-13), 13.10.13 (ITMC)

Squad update: Robbie Malneek moves another step closer to becoming the first Tasman Makos player to play 100 games for the province when he lines up against Manawatu for Thursday's national provincial championship rugby match in Blenheim.

Used predominantly at fullback or wing throughout his lengthy career, Malneek will be taking the field at Lansdowne Park for the 96th time in a Makos' jersey as a replacement for Monty Ioane on the right wing.

Malneek's one of only three changes to the starting lineup from last Friday's 34-13 second round win over Bay of Plenty in Nelson and will provide valuable pace against a Manawatu side that dished out a hefty 47-19 hiding to the Makos in their pre-season clash in Palmerston North.

Also back is lock Alex Ainley who replaces his Highlanders' team-mate Joe Wheeler to join Queensland Reds import Marco Kotze in the second row. Siua Halanukonuka also earns a start at tighthead prop in place of Ross Geldenhuys who takes his place on the bench.

Manawatu's side includes just two changes to the starting XV, one in the forwards and one in the backs.

However, there has been plenty of positional changes throughout the squad.

The forward pack have been rewarded for their hard graft against Waikato, with all but Antonio Kiri Kiri retaining their position. James Oliver returns from a long injury lay-off to take the number eight jersey, which sees Kiri Kiri slide to the bench for an impact role covering all thee loose forward positions.

The sees the likes of the tireless Callum Gibbins, who will again captain the side, keeps his combination with Heiden Bedwell-Curtis at openside and blindside respectively, while the tight five is the same combination for the third week in a row.

Toby Morland gets the nod as reserve halfback ahead of Jamie Booth, to play just his second game in the green and white jumper. Sam Malcolm drops from the bench in order for Nathan Tudreu to cover the outside backs and cetres alongside Jaxon Tagavaitau. New signing Ambrose curtis will debut at on the wing and hope he can make an impact for his new side.

Key players: Tasman are a remarkable side, the traditional barometer of measuring a side’s prowess by international appearances is irrelevant for this group, yet across the park these Makos have well known threats everywhere.

Tim Perry and Quentin MacDonald have been reliable up front, while Marco Kotze and Suia Halunkonuka have been partnered in the second row this week to complete what has been a formidable tight five early in the campaign, while Shane Christie and Liam Squire will threaten the Turbos breakdown efforts.

Marty Banks is alongside Billy Guyton, with former All Blacks halfback Jimmy Cowan again on the bench, but it is the centres of Havili and Fonotia that help the halves generate a big part of the Makos backline momentum.

Callum Gibbins will again be key, even if he is suffering from lack of support at times, Manawatu’s forwards will need to lift against an athletic rival up front who will try to move the Turbos big men around.

Otere Black, Jamie Booth and Kayne Hammington are all exciting, but none have grabbed a game by the scruff of the neck, so the talent out wide including Nathan Tudreu and Semisi Masirewa, will need to grab some headlines if they are to upset this impressive Tasman team.